Pobedonostsev on the “great falsehood” of democracy (1898)

Konstantin Pobedonostsev (1827-1907) was a Russian conservative who occupied high offices in both the government and the Russian Orthodox church. Pobedonostsev was a tutor to both Alexander III and Nicholas II and was instrumental in instilling them with reactionary views. Writing in his 1898 memoir, Reflections of a Russian Statesman, Pobedonostsev attacked democracy and its interconnected ideas, calling it the “greatest falsehood in history”:

“What is this freedom by which so many minds are agitated, which inspires so many insensate actions, so many wild speeches, which leads the people so often to misfortune?

In the democratic sense of the word, freedom is the right of political power or to express it, otherwise, the right to participate in the
government of the State. This universal aspiration for a share in government has no constant limitations and seeks no definite issue but incessantly extends.

…Forever extending its base, the new democracy now aspires to universal suffrage, a fatal error, and one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind…

Democracy violates its sacred formula of ‘freedom indissolubly joined with equality’. It is shown that this apparently equal distribution of “freedom” among all involves the total destruction of equality. Each vote, representing an inconsiderable fragment of power, by itself signifies nothing; an aggregation of votes alone has a relative value.

The result may be likened to the general meetings of shareholders in public companies. By themselves, individuals are ineffective, but he who controls a number of these fragmentary forces is master of all power and directs all decisions and dispositions… In a democracy, the real rulers are the dexterous manipulators of votes, with their placemen, the mechanics who so skilfully operate the hidden springs which move the puppets in the area of democratic elections…

Among the falsest of political principles is the principle of the sovereignty of the people, the principle that all power issues from the people and is based upon the national will – a principle which has unhappily become more firmly established since the time of the French Revolution.

From this proceeds the theory of parliamentarism, which, up to the present day has deluded much of the so-called “intelligentsia” and unhappily infatuated certain foolish Russians. It continues to maintain its hold on many minds with the obstinacy of a narrow fanaticism, although every day its falsehood is exposed more clearly to the world…”